SWG 15: Organizational Ethnography



Jana Costas, European University Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder, Germany



Heidi Dahles, Griffith Business School, Griffith University, Australia

Laura Galuppo, Faculty of Psychology, Catholic University of Milan, Italy


Juliette Koning, Dept. of Organisational Studies, Oxford Brookes University, UK

Geneviève Musca, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, France

Linda Rouleau, Dept. of Management, HEC Montréal, Canada


Recent years have witnessed the expansion of ethnography into the fields of organization, management, business, governance and policy studies and its growing presence in the curricula of business and medical schools, in practical research methods courses and in organizational activities, such as marketing and technology development (Hirsch & Gellner, 2001; Neyland, 2008: 2). Ethnography traces its roots to anthropology, in particular the Malinowskian fieldwork paradigm of the 1930s (Clifford, 1986; Marcus, 1995), and the sociological research of the Chicago school of the 1950s (cf. Whyte, 1955; 1961). In organizational studies, ethnography made its entrance only in the late 1970s with the publication of a special issue of Administrative Science Quarterly (1979), edited by John van Maanen.

Organizational Ethnography (OE) can be defined as a distinct methodology, a style of writing and theoretical-conceptual thinking about organizations (cf. Hirsch & Gellner, 2001; Kostera, 2007; Neyland, 2008).

John van Maanen (2011: 218) characterizes OE as both a methodological approach to and an analytical perspective on social research – in other words: as fieldwork, headwork and textwork.

SWG 15 aims at exploring and advancing OE as a paradigm for organizational sciences and addresses these three facets of OE:


  • To advance the exploration of OE as a conceptual paradigm, methodology and a genre of writing among organization scientists in general and EGOS members in particular;
  • To critically assess the contribution of OE to organization theory and its potential for future areas of research and theoretical exploration in organizational sciences;
  • To identify what is distinctive about OE vis-à-vis other approaches to the study of organizations;
  • To encourage solid empirical work based on OE in and on organizations;
  • To invite new approaches to and perspectives on OE;
  • To establish the applicability and value added of OE to professionals and practitioners in the field of decision and policy making, corporate governance, consultancy and advising.

This SWG 15 explores the concerns particular to ethnographic, participant-observer, and other forms of interpretive organizational research (e.g., semiotics; ethnomethodology; activity theory; discourse, narrative, story analyses, etc.) that engage issues in three categories: theory, methods and methodology.

These would include organizational studies considered broadly, including workplaces and work, public (governmental), nonprofit, and corporate organizations, as well more philosophical reflections, such as the knowledge claims made by ethnographers and other interpretive researchers for their analyses and "findings" or the evaluative criteria for judging the truth claims or trustworthiness of interpretive research.


Clifford, J. (1986): 'Introduction: partial truths.' In: J. Clifford & G.E. Marcus (eds.): Writing Culture. The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 1–26.
Hirsch, E., & Gellner, D.N. (2001): 'Introduction: ethnography of organizations and organizations of ethnography." In: D.N. Gellner & E. Hirsch (eds.): Inside Organizations. Anthropologists at Work. Oxford: Berg, pp. 1–18.
Kostera, M. (2007): Organizational Ethnography: Methods and Inspirations. London: SAGE Publications.
Marcus, G.E. (1998): Ethnography Through Thick and Thin. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Neyland, D. (2007): Organizational Ethnography. London: SAGE Publications.
Van Maanen, J. (ed.) (1979): 'Qualitative methodology.' Special edition of Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 24.
Van Maanen, J. (2001): 'Afterword: natives "R" us: some notes on the ethnography of organizations.' In: D.N. Gellner & E. Hirsch (eds.): Inside Organizations. Anthropologists at Work. Oxford: Berg, pp. 233–261.
Van Maanen, J. (2011): 'Ethnography as work: Some rules of engagement.' Journal of Management Studies, 48 (1), 218–234.
Whyte, W.F. (1955): Street Corner Society. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Whyte, W.F. (1961): Men at Work. Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey Press.

The coordinators

Jana Costas is Full Professor and Chair of Business Administration at the European University Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder, Germany. Her research interests lie at the intersection of organization studies, social anthropology, sociology, philosophy and psychoanalysis. She received a PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2009 and was awarded a European Union Marie Curie Fellowship in 2013, which she conducted at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark.

Heidi Dahles is Full Professor and Head of the Department of International Business and Asian Studies, Griffith Business School, Griffith University, Australia. Her research interest is in transnational organizations. She published in peer-reviewed journals such as Culture & Organization, East Asia; An International Quarterly, Journal of Developmental Entrepreneurship and Journal of Enterprising Communities. Among her recent books are "Capital and Knowledge. Changing Power Relations in Asia" (co-edited with Otto van den Muijzenberg, 2003) and "Multicultural Organizations in Asia" (co-edited with Loh Wei Leng, 2006). Heidi is Review Editor for the Journal of Business Anthropology. She co-convened sub-themes at the EGOS Colloquia 2006, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014 and co-organized the EGOS Colloquium 2008 in Amsterdam.

Laura Galuppo is a PhD and post-doctoral scholar in Work and Organizational Psychology at the Psychology Department, Faculty of Psychology, Catholic University of Milan, Italy. Her current research focuses on social sustainability in organizations, organizational learning and management research. Recent publications are contributions to Systemic Practice and Action Research (2010); European Journal of Psychology of Education (2011), and an edited volume "When working is un-sustainable … Promoting social sustainability through an action-research approach in health organizations" (Vita e Pensiero, 2012).

Juliette Koning is Senior Lecturer in Organizational Anthropology at the Management and Organizational Studies Department, Faculty of Business, Oxford Brookes University, UK. Her current research focuses on business, leadership, identity, ethnicity and religion in Southeast Asia. Books and (co-)edited volumes include "Generations of Change" (2004), "Rope Walking and Safety Nets" (2006) and "Chinese Indonesians and Regime Change" (2010). Recent publications are contributions to East Asia: An International Quarterly (2007, 24), Inside Indonesia (2009, 95), Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies (2009, 27) and an edited volume on "Christianity in Asia" (Routledge, 2009) and "Entrepreneurship in Context" (Routledge, 2011).

Geneviève Musca is Associate Professor in Strategy Management and Organization at Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, France. She is currently acting as coordinator of the "Darwin expedition" research project, an ethnographic study of a climbing expedition across the Cordillera Darwin range in Patagonia, sponsored by France's National Research Agency (ANR). She has previously held management positions in private sector organizations (telecom industry, the media). She published in journals such as M@n@gement and Revue Française de Gestion. Her current research focuses on competences dynamics and teamwork in practice in turbulent environments.

Linda Rouleau is Full Professor at HEC Montréal, Canada. Her research work focuses on micro-strategy and strategizing practices through drawing upon qualitative research methodology. Among other ongoing projects, she is working with middle managers' narratives of practice and is a member of the Darwin Expedition's research team. Over the past few years, she has published in peer-reviewed journals, such as Journal of Management Studies, Organization Science, Human Relations and Academy of Management Review. She is one of the leaders of GéPS (Study Group in Strategy-as-Practice, HEC Montréal) and a research member of CRIMT (a Canadian research center on globalization and labor). Linda co-organized the EGOS Colloquium 2013 in Montréal.